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The violence of a peaceful demonstration

Sunday, 31 March, 2019

News from the real world: “Channel 4 News has apologised after its presenter Jon Snow said he had ‘never seen so many white people in one place’, referring to the pro-Brexit protesters who flooded the centre of London on Friday.”

Ballard What a pity J. G. Ballard is not alive at this hour as his take on Brexit take would be very entertaining, no doubt. Acidic observations dripped from the pen of the late British author: “Nothing brings out violence like a peaceful demonstration,” is a classic and here’s another good one: “My brief stay at the hospital had already convinced me that the medical profession was an open door to anyone nursing a grudge against the human race.”

The writer of Empire of the Sun, Crash, Cocaine Nights and Super-Cannes could turn a memorable phrase and many of the best can be found in J.G. Ballard: Quotes, a 400-page volume drawn from 40 years of writing. Seven gems:

  • “Sex times technology equals the future.”
  • “Sooner or later all science fiction comes true.”
  • “The only definition of real happiness: to find yourself and be who you are.”
  • “A general rule: if enough people predict something, it won’t happen.”
  • “The advanced societies of the future will not be governed by reason. They will be driven by irrationality, by competing systems of psychopathology.”
  • “A widespread taste for pornography means that nature is alerting us to some threat of extinction.”
  • “Learn the rules, and you can get away with anything.”

Ballard isn’t for everyone. He tended towards the dark, so if you’re feeling down, wait until the clouds have cleared before opening any of his works. Still, he gets it right a lot of the time, especially about the “new totalitarianism”, which is what he called the emerging mix of bland architecture, pervasive computing, docile citizenry and cultural relativism. He sums it up brilliantly here: “The New Totalitarians come forward smiling obsequiously like head waiters in third-rate Indian restaurants, and assuring us that everything is for our benefit.” J. G. Ballard warned us, quotably.


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